Running Scared: Observations of a Former Republican
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"Losing my faith in humanity ... one neocon at a time."

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Late-Night Sketch Comedy: What the Hell Happened?

posted by Mike at 1/16/2005 12:22:00 PM


Saturday Night Live evidently took notice of the fact that Dean is in the running for DNC chair (according to Kos, even possibly the lead), incorporating him into a skit with Anderson Williams and Zell Miller last night.

I have to admit, I've not often nowadays found Saturday Night Live skits humorous, but I found this one even insulting. The entire substance of the characterization was taking the concept of the "Dean scream" and Dean's rather infamous energy level and converting it into a semihomicidal mania. "GIVE ME YOUR BABIES," the actor yells at one point, "GIVE ME YOUR BABIES!!!" Come on ... is there really any skill in that? I've laughed at parodies of my own 'sacred cows' in the past, but that's mostly because the parodies were conducted with skill and paniche, not by taking a sledgehammer and pounding the audience's heads, going "IT'S FUNNY! HE SCREAMED! nevermindthatitwasaunidirectionalmikeandhewasshoutingovercrowdnoise HE'S A WILD MAN WITH NO COGNITIVE THOUGHT OR FEAR! OOOOOOOOOOOH!"

I tend to think, though, that the longer a television sketch comedy show is around on network television, the more it becomes reliant upon 'safe' repeating character sketches, until it starts feeding on itself like Ouroboros and ends up becoming a shell. I say this particularly after watching the semi-swift decay of "MADtv," which after only a decade or so on television, swiftly lost all the controversy it used to have.

I'll sometimes catch a first- or second-season episode of "MADtv" on Comedy Central, and it'll be remarkable exactly how brave the sketches were. There was an entire recurring sketch called "That's My White Mamma" that made fun of exactly how far UPN shows were going at the time -- a black woman got run down and her ghost gets up and inhabits actor Artie Lange -- who, to give you an idea of the contrast involved, was pretty much a taller John Belushi. Most of the other material on the show in the first few seasons was similarly weird, strange, or enjoyable, but at least 80% of it was immensely politically incorrect and boundary-testing. Even the sketches that got old, such as the Vancome Lady who spouted hatred of every variety at any opportunity, weren't boring.

Nowadays, for "MADtv" or "SNL," you just see the same character sketches recur over and over again. This is a shame, but I'm not too surprised. It actually was explained to me by a wonderful moment in a movie called "Bob Roberts," which is a documentary of a fictional neoconservative Republican candidate's 1992 campaign for one of Pennsylvania's Senate seats. If you've not caught it, you've missed one of the most biting analyses of the neocon movement ever, and what makes it remarkable is its prescience: it was released in 1992, long before the neoconservative movement ever really began becoming tidal, and features an absolutely amazing ensemble of actors, including Tim Robbins as the candidate and Alan Rickman in a f—kin' BRILLIANT role.

Anyway, in this scene, Bob Roberts is due to appear on a Saturday Night Live-type show as the musical guest, along with John Cusack (appearing as himself) as the host. John Cusack tries out this monologue on the director:

In the beginning, our great company provided appliances for the neighborhood. We heated your home, we refrigerated your food, and improved the quality of your life. We prospered, and you loved us, and we grew into a large multinational corporation. In fact, we own this very network. Our chief source of income, however, is the arms industry. Yes, we rely heavily on those fat government contracts to make those useless weapons of mass destruction. And even though we've been indicted and convicted for fraud several times, you don't hear about our bad side because, well, we own our own news division. Chances are pretty slim you'll hear reports of our environmental mishaps, or the way we bust those unions. We even have a highly-rated Saturday night show that the public buys as entertainment with a leftist slant.

"That's like cutting your own throat," replies the show's director, nixing the sketch. "It's not funny. Some of us need our paychecks."

P.S. I don't know as I could write an entirely new entry about it, but I wanted to make sure you guys caught, on the Smoking Gun, the e-mails that chairman Michael Powell got from people complaining about the FCC's prudishness surrounding the "Desparate Housewives"/NFL sketch. I'm starting you out with #14, the funniest one, but the others are pretty damn funny, too.